With support from the High Tide Foundation, CSSN is proud to be assisting the work of 21 teams of researchers at 33 universities in 21 countries. 2021 and 2022 grantees are listed below.
2022 Funded Projects
Agricultural Organizations and Their Messaging About Climate Change and Recommended Responses
Thomas Daniels, University of Pennsylvania
US agriculture contributes an estimated 10 percent of the nation’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through changing the types of livestock or crops raised and the adoption of practices that reduce manure and fertilizers and enhance soil carbon is highly desirable. Nine US agricultural organizations represent meat producers and growers of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Historically, these organizations have expressed skepticism about climate change and whether growers should alter what they produce and how. This study analyzes the communications and publications of these nine organizations from 1990 to 2022 to identify changes toward accepting climate change and advocating for climate-friendly crops and livestock and production practices. The study will also identify the actions each organization is recommending to re-orient federal policies, USDA programs, and producer practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Vulnerability and the Paradoxes of Energy Policies: Understanding the Barriers to a Low Carbon Sustainable Energy Future in Bangladesh
Omar Faruque, Queen’s University, Canada
Although the Paris Agreement and the UN SDGs have institutionalized a new global policy framework for low carbon development, many countries like Bangladesh face substantive barriers to sustainable energy transition. Several studies suggest a huge potential for renewable energy to meet Bangladesh’s growing demand. Moreover, the falling costs of renewable energy technologies are making it cost-effective and affordable. Despite this promising reality and its international commitments, the Bangladeshi government remains committed to fossil fuels. Scholars argue that various actors with uneven power and divergent interests are engaged in a battle to shape the overall policy agenda. Building on this insight, this study examines the influence of both exogenous and endogenous actors on formulating public policies in the power and energy sector in Bangladesh. In so doing, it aims to contribute to the emerging scholarship on energy transition and climate obstruction in the Global South.
Exploring Regulatory Capture at the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority (FERC)
Noel Healy, Salem State University
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) wields enormous but overlooked power over our energy future, making some of the most consequential decisions about how the US government tackles climate change. Yet this is not matched by proportionate research into the structural, institutional and political dynamics that affect FERC’s permit decision-making. This research will provide one of the first systematic, peer-reviewed studies of regulatory “capture” at FERC. It will fill a critical gap in knowledge on the structure of power in US government decision-making on energy by investigating the links between fossil-fuel interests and federal energy regulators.
The role of U.S. industrial meat and dairy producers in the climate change countermovement
Jennifer Jacquet, New York University and Viveca Morris, Yale University
The fossil fuel industry’s role in the extensive “climate change countermovement” has been studied for decades, but relatively little is understood about the ways in which the animal agriculture industry has influenced public understanding of the sector’s contributions to climate change. This research examines the relationship between the meat and dairy industries and prominent researchers and university programs. We ask 1) whether and how these relationships have challenged the linkage between the meat and dairy industry and climate change; 2) how they have approached disclosure of financial ties to the meat and dairy industry; and 3) how the media has reported on industry-funded research.
Politics of Climate Change in Zimbabwe: Integrating Energy Transition and Ecosystem Restoration
Tariro Kamuti, University of Cape Town
Zimbabwe has a climate change dilemma that is centered around energy production and biodiversity loss. The country’s majority population who are subsistence farmers do not have access to electricity so, they rely on firewood for their energy needs. On the other hand, a greater proportion of the country’s electricity is produced through coal-powered stations and the country is investing more in that sector to meet outstanding demand. The country needs to take an alternative course of action anchored on a just energy transition in tandem with the restoration of ecosystems. Using an institutional approach, the study aims to understand the workings of the policy processes and governance contexts in the integration of various strategies to tackle climate change in Zimbabwe. These contexts will give the state of politics of climate change in Zimbabwe with a special focus on the need for integration of a just energy transition and ecosystem restoration.
International climate finance: obstructing transformational change on-the-ground?
Laura Kuhl, Northeastern University; Jamie Shinn, West Virginia University; Saleemul Huq, Independent University, Bangladesh and M. Feisal Rahman, Durham University
International climate finance is an integral part of the global climate policy regime, with its goal increasingly articulated as catalyzing transformational change. Significant barriers related to the amount and quality of finance have been identified, but less attention has been paid to how competition for scarce resources incentivizes countries to design projects that are driven by the priorities of the funds. The objectives of the project are to 1) analyze the deliberative process within the Green Climate Fund (GCF), as a key case study, to articulate the ways in which investment criteria and their interpretation by key decision-makers shape on-the-ground transformation, 2) to understand perceptions of what is an acceptable or unacceptable transformational change from the perspective of both applicants and funders, and 3) compare the conceptualization of transformation in the GCF and other sources of climate finance, including multilateral development banks (MDBs) and bilateral donors.
Primary evidence for the origins and evolution of the Atlas Network’s global climate policy obstruction, 1981-2013.
Jeremy Walker, University of Technology Sydney
The project aims to present an account of the origins, aims and evolving strategies of the Atlas Network, and its role in advancing fossil fuel industry objectives from its 1981 founding (as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation) – notably at a time when major corporate donors such as ExxonMobil and Shell possessed detailed scientific projections of catastrophic global impacts by the early 21st century- into the present.
Contesting the Coast: Real Estate Interests and the Obstruction of Climate Adaptation in California
Edward Walker, Andrew Malmuth, University of California, Los Angeles
As sea level rise threats continue to grow along the California coast, this project will analyze the politics of California’s coastal adaptation, including, most notably, the powerful real estate interests that are shaping possibilities for future action. The project will use data from historical records, interviews, and participant observation to identify the effects of real estate interests (developer firms, industry groups, and wealthy owners, as well as their allies) as they slow efforts at adaptation through their engagement with the state. In so doing, we will trace the strategies used by real estate coalitions to curb (or redirect) state power and analyze the circumstances under which real estate interests are able to preserve the coastline as a space for private value extraction. These findings will not only advance sociological theorizing on the politics of climate adaptation but also provide a theoretically-informed basis for considering on-the-ground solutions—and proposing a more just politics of SLR adaptation.
2021 Funded Projects
Clashes in Paradise: Development Models and Climate Obstruction in Argentina and Brazil
Carlos Milani, Universidad do Rio de Janeiro; Ruth Mckie, De Montfort University; Guy Edwards, Brown University and Ricardo Gutiérrez, Universidad Nacional San Martin
This is a 24-month comparative case study project which maps climate obstruction actors, their narratives and strategies in Argentina and Brazil. Both are important actors in global climate governance with vast agribusiness, mineral extraction complexes and booming fossil fuel production. Brazil and Argentina present different contexts (approaches to development, political traditions, and economic trajectories), offering fertile ground to examine what form climate obstruction takes and the extent to which it has stalled climate-related policies. The main research questions are: Who are the key actors in Brazil and Argentina working to delay or obstruct climate action such as delaying the energy transition and reducing deforestation? How are they organized at the local and national level, and how do they compare? What explains the rationales, strategies, and discourses of climate obstruction? What are the transnational connections between actors in Argentina and Brazil and their global partners in the US, Europe and Asia?
The Business of Influence: Networks, Narratives and Strategies of Action and Non-action Around Climate Change, 1973 – 2021
Melissa Aronczyk, Rutgers University
This project examines the extensive role played by public relations and promotional (advocacy, branding and advertising) campaigns in developing the rule book by which corporate and political actors coordinate and pursue their objectives. It will trace the trajectories of key actors and organizations over time in their elaboration of strategies to reshape environmental problems in significant ways, with lasting effects on the ability to develop standards and regulations to address global warming in political and public spheres. This two-year project will combine theoretical perspectives on elite political and communication networks and the nature of influence with empirical research on interorganizational dynamics and public promotional/advocacy activities among corporate, government and non-governmental actors. It will use extensive analysis of media and publicity as well as historical and archival research to develop a set of substantive responses to existing barriers to climate change action.
Intersections and Impacts of the Fossil Fuel-Plastic-Agriculture Complex: Mutual Reinforcement and Embodied Injustice
Alaina D. Boyle and Jennie C. Stephens, Northeastern University
There has been extensive research on bilateral connections between fossil fuels and plastics and fossil fuels and agriculture but research on the extent to which these three industries are interconnected has been limited. The cumulative societal impact of the legacy of strategic activities in these industries resisting climate policy and climate justice remains under-analyzed. What is clear is that both plastics and agricultural inputs derived from highly carbon-intensive petrochemicals directly and inequitably damage human health. This research dissects mutually reinforcing production inputs, processes, and products in the fossil fuel – plastic – agricultural complex (the ‘carbon complex’) to: 1) clearly delineate the roles and relationships within and between actors in these industries as they have together contributed to climate change and 2) examine their cumulative effect on US federal and state climate policy, including through strategic investments in lobbying and other obstructions.
The Rise of Financialized Climate Governance: Examining the Phenomenon and Evaluating its Potential
Rami Kaplan, Tel Aviv University and David L. Levy, University of Massachusetts Boston
Recent years have seen the mobilization of investors to integrate climate metrics into financial decisions and to pressure firms to address climate risks. This proposed study examines financialized climate governance (FCG), potentially a powerful lever for change given the primary role of capital markets in corporate governance and the concentration of corporate GHG emissions and global investment management. We propose the first sociological inquiry into the significance, trajectory, and impact of this new phenomenon on societal relations, inter-organizational dynamics, and GHG emissions. Our research questions address: FCG as a social movement, including the reframing of risks, actor mobilization, and opportunity structures; the calculative mechanisms that intermediate between climate metrics and financial measures of value and risk; shifting alignments and power relations among diverse actors; and FCG’s effectiveness in driving change despite its capitalist self-regulatory nature and greenwashing risks. Research methods include interviews, participant observations, and collection of documentary and database materials.
Blocking Sunlight, Delaying Climate Action: Financial Capital, Solar Geoengineering, and U.S. Climate Policy
Kevin Surprise, Mount Holyoke College
Solar geoengineering (SG) technologies – proposed methods for slowing climate change by reflecting sunlight back to space – have long faced criticism for potentially enabling fossil fueled business-as-usual and allowing industrialized countries to avoid necessary emissions cuts. This concern is not unfounded, yet the fossil fuel industry is not currently funding any major SG research initiatives. Rather, the economic sector most directly involved with SG research in the U.S. is financial capital: firms, individuals, and philanthropies connected to hedge funds, venture capital, and private equity. Given that SG has the capacity to slow warming independent of emissions reductions, and finance remains heavily invested in fossil fuels, this project explores three central questions: Why are financial actors funding SG research? How does this emergent funding-research configuration change the way that SG is researched and developed? How does the financialization of SG influence the uptake of these technologies in U.S. and international climate policy?
Fossil Nationalism or Climate Nationalism? Investigating the Politics and Narratives of Climate Action, Delay, and Displacement in the Asia-Pacific
Prakash Kashwan, University of Connecticut; John Chung-En Liu, National Taiwan University and Jahnnabi Das, University of Technology Sydney
In this collaborative research project, we use the twin lenses of ‘fossil nationalism’ and ‘climate nationalism’ to investigate climate politics in three large countries outside of North American and western European contexts – China, India, and Australia. Using a contextualized analysis, we investigate the varied positions of fossil fuel industry groups within the broader domestic political economy and its effects on climate denialism, delay, displacement, and climate action. We collect data from English and Non-English newspapers, trade newsletters, and the press briefings issued by the fossil fuel industry groups and map how fossil fuel industry actors relate to other prominent actors and agencies, including government ministries, trade associations, think tanks, and civil society, to shape climate politics in each of these three countries. Our conceptualization and analysis of climate politics on a continuum between fossil nationalism and climate nationalism offers new comparative insights on pathways for addressing the roadblocks against robust and timely climate action.
Extreme Event Attribution in Media Reporting of Wildfires in the US, Canada, and Australia: Anti-reflexibility and the Climate Countermovement
Josh Holloway and Cassandra Star, Flinders University
Natural disasters command significant public attention. They are focusing events, with the potential to shift debate on climate change action. Yet natural disasters also open a ‘crisis-induced opportunity space’ for competing actors to advance policy aims and effect political change, a contest largely played out in the media. Recently, the United States, Canada, and Australia have suffered significant wildfires, which have prompted intense political contests over cause, blame, and responsibility. This project aims to reveal: the frames and themes in wildfire reporting amid climate change; whether climate change countermovements (CCCMs) exploit wildfire reporting to delay climate action; and the transnational spread of CCCM ideas, strategies and personnel. Thus, we will evaluate and systematically compare the dynamics of media reporting on wildfires and bushfires across the three country cases. The project will combine quantitative content analysis with qualitative thematic analysis, and connect these findings to an evaluation of local, national, and transnational activity by political elites to delay climate action.
Climate Policy Preferences and Political Power: The Case of State-Level RPS Policy Design
Joshua A. Basseches, University of Michigan
This project builds on Basseches’ previous work, which found that variation in climate and renewable energy policy design in California, Massachusetts, and Oregon was explainable by differences in the policy preferences and political power among business actors. Most notable was the role of investor-owned utilities, whose policy preferences most directly shaped outcomes. In the upcoming project, Basseches will test theories developed about the policy preferences and political power of these various business actors using five additional states, which unlike the original three, are characterized by Republican majorities and/or significant fossil fuel production within their borders: Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. A paired comparison design will enable Basseches to evaluate how these features of state political economy may interact with other determinants of utilities’ policy preferences to explain divergences in policy design.
Climate Advocacy and Opposition in the U.S. States
Jonas Meckling and Samuel Trachtman, University of California, Berkeley
Existing scholarship has highlighted the fundamental role of organized interests in both driving and blocking climate policies. Yet, we have accumulated little systematic empirical evidence on the landscape of organized interests involved in climate and clean energy politics. This is particularly true for US states, where much policy activity is located in the US federal system. In this project, we will, first, curate new quantitative data on pro-climate groups, mapping the landscape of environmental and clean energy groups active lobbying at the state level across all US states. Second, for three states that offer particularly rich lobbying records, we will study the organized interests that lobby both for and against climate and clean energy bills introduced since 2000—along with the outcome of those legislative processes. Third, we will investigate recent climate and clean energy policymaking processes in six states where the Democratic party won full control of government in 2018, paying particular attention to the role of organized interests. The project will thus allow us to better understand the political geography of climate advocacy across US states, the dynamics of interest group battles, and the relationship between party control and interest group influence.
Mapping the Landscape of US Climate Policy Obstruction: Interest Group Influence in Statehouses
Joshua Basseches, University of Michigan; Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, Christopher Newport University and Galen Hall, Brown University:
The climate change countermovement (CCCM), a constellation of nongovernmental organizations and corporations, has polarized American beliefs about climate change and stymied Congressional legislation needed to slow the climate emergency. The CCCM’s obstruction has shifted the burden of climate action onto the states. Scholars have little systematic information about who is obstructing clean energy policies in state legislatures, however, reflecting a broader dearth of information about interest groups’ activities in these crucial political arenas. We will address this gap by compiling a large dataset of interest group positions on bills in state legislatures. Between July 2021 and March 2022, we will scrape, clean, and harmonize interest group lobbying records and public testimony, covering 31 states and over 63% of the US population, resulting in ~6-15 million records of positions on legislation spanning the past decade. From March to July 2022, we will replicate a similar study on Massachusetts — which used interest groups’ bill preferences to map advocates and opponents in different domains of climate policy and measure their success — this time on the scale of some thirty-one states. The results will advance our understanding of climate obstruction at the state level.
The Climate Establishment: When and Why Do INGOs Cooperate With Polluters?
Jessica Green, University of Toronto:
Although international environmental (INGOs) are often seen as opponents of big polluters, oftentimes, the two groups collaborate. This project asks why, when and how this collaboration occurs. The general assumption is that “professional environmentalists’ ‘ in INGOs are contributing positively to climate politics, but this assumption merits careful examination. Many INGOs are now large international bureaucracies, which seek to maintain their authority, access to policymakers and funding streams. Moreover, some cooperate with large emitters—including the fossil fuel industry, electric utilities, and firms in other emissions intensive sectors. Rather than serving as outside critics, the INGOs that cooperate with large emitters are part of what I call “the climate establishment.” The climate establishment includes INGOs involved in advocacy, rulemaking and implementation of international climate policy: insiders in the climate policy making process. This project asks: which members of the climate establishment cooperate with large multinationals and large emitters, and through what types of policies and programs?
Co-funded with the European Climate Foundation:
Think Tanks and the politicization and polarization of climate change: The case of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation Network
Dieter Plehwe, Berlin Social Science Center; Ruth McKie, De Montfort University
This project is historical, comparative, and transnational organizational analysis of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and related think tanks (Atlas Network). We will collect and examine data on 500 organizations, staff and board members, and authors of climate related output. Network analysis will be conducted to investigate interlocking positions in the network and links between think tanks and important corporate and other constituencies of climate denial and obstruction efforts in the most relevant policy fields (e.g. energy, transport, housing and heating, agriculture). As a ‘political institution’ think tanks have expanded their role in policy-planning since the 1970s. Since many of the think tanks studied in national context are members of transnational networks, they are also key institutions in transnational circuits of ideas and political strategies related to climate change policy making in general, and the opposition to ambitious global warming mitigation strategies in particular.